Japan art and Yashima Gakutei: Angels, Taoism, and culture

Japan art and Yashima GakuteiAngels, Taoism, and culture

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The Japanese artist and poet Yashima Gakutei (1786-1868) provides a delightful cultural, philosophical, and religious angle to some of his art pieces. Sadly, unlike the lasting legacy of his art, very little is known about the late stages of his life. 

The British Museum says, “Gakutei’s first illustrations to popular fiction appeared in 1815, and the following year the first of his ‘surimono’, in which genre he would become a leading designer during the 1820s and 30s. An important author and illustrator of popular fiction, including the ‘yomihon Ehon saiyu zenden’ (completed in 1835) based on the Chinese novel ‘Xi you ji’ (‘Record of the Westward Journey’).” 

In the first art piece, Gakutei depicts the Daoist Immortal Rin Nasei and a Crane through the prism of art. Taoism (Daoism) and Confucianism influenced many aspects of Japanese culture throughout a long period of history. Hence, the life of Rin Nasei intrigued Gakutei. 

Even today, ideas emanating from Taoism and Confucianism continue to influence modern Japan – even if the influence is benign and cultural, like Christianity in modern-day England.

In the above art piece, Gakutei depicts angels and the moon. However, with the influence of Buddhism, Confucianism, Shamanism, Shintoism, and Taoism (religious, philosophical, and syncretic): the angels near the moon are extremely intriguing. 

The impact of Christianity was crushed during the Edo Period. However, this faith gradually re-emerged after the Meiji Restoration (1868-1912). Hence, Gakutei will have been aware of the Christian angle within areas of Western art and the minor cultural angles that existed throughout his lifetime.

Gakutei studied art from several esteemed artists. This includes Totoya Hokkei and Hokusai. Overall, Gakutei provides a lovely cultural angle to his art because he felt passionate about high culture.

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